REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
For more than ten years the IACHR has been monitoring the human rights
situation in El Salvador and reporting on it annually to the Organization's
General Assembly. The Commission has repeatedly made reference to the continuing
problem of internecine warfare in El Salvador between the Army and the irregular
forces operating as the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN).
The IACHR has also made reference to serious and illegal actions by armed
paramilitary groups. According to statistical data, supplied by non-governmental
human rights groups and the Government itself, the conflict has already claimed
more than 70,000 lives.
First, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will refer to the
change of administration that has taken place in El Salvador, with President José
Napoleón Duarte reaching the end of his term on May 31 and
handing the reins of government over on June 1, 1989, to Mr. Alfredo
Cristiani of the Nationalist Republic Alliance party (ARENA), who therewith
began his presidency of El Salvador for a constitutionally mandated term of 5
The change of Government was brought about by the presidential elections
of March 19, 1989, which yielded, according to the Central Electoral Council,
the following official returns: Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) 505,370
votes (53.82%), Christian Democratic Party (PDC) 338,369 votes (36.03%),
National Conciliation Party (PCN) 39,218 votes (4.07%), Democratic Convergence
(CD) 35,642 votes (3.88%), Authentic Christian Movement (MAC) 9,300 votes
(0.9%), and the Party of Renovating Action (PAR) 3,207 votes (0.34%). The
President of the Electoral Council estimated that 50% did not vote.
Two months before the elections the FMLN formulated a political proposal
“to turn the election into step for peace.” Three basic thrusts were
contained in the proposal: acceptance of the electoral process under conditions
which would allow its participation, the fairness of the tallying and acceptance
of the outcome, and acceptance of the Army of El Salvador as the only armed
force. To reach this end, the FMLN believed it was necessary to postpone the
elections, put an end to military actions against various social groups,
incorporate the Democratic Convergence into the Central Election Board as well
as the establishment of the right to vote for all Salvadorans abroad. For its
part, the FMLN pledged itself to respect the activities of the various political
parties as well as those of the electoral authorities throughout the country. It
would order a truce and withdraw its forces from the towns and places the voting
was to take place, urging its supporters to take part in the elections.
This proposal was widely debated by the Government, the political parties
and the representatives of the FMLN during a meeting held in Mexico on February
20-21. On March 1, the Government and Congress of El Salvador agreed to form a
joint commission to negotiate with the FMLN an eventual postponement of the
presidential elections scheduled for March 19. The representatives of the
executive branch on the Commission would be Vice-President Rodolfo Castillo and
the Minister of Defense, General Eugenio Vides Casanova.
In spite of a number of meetings held, the FMLN proposal was not
accepted. Given this response, the FMLN called on its followers “to massively
repudiate the elections by war.” The balloting, as a result, was conducted in
the midst of fighting and sabotage aimed at impeding the elections. This
included attacks on the Presidential Mansion and the Armed Forces' Radio
Training Center. Forty-six persons died and sixty three were injured during the
elections. Among the dead were two reporters of the Reuters news agency, Messrs.
Roberto Navas and Luis Galdámez, as well as a Dutch journalist, Cornel Lagrouw.
On June 1, 1989, in his speech to the Legislative Assembly during his
swearing-in as the new Head of State, President Alfredo Cristiani cited as
foremost among his Government's purposes to search for a solution to the armed
conflict, and said that “no one in his right mind can want this fratricidal
and unjust war to go on” and he also asserted his resolve to constitute a
commission for dialogue toward a solution of the problem with the FMLN and
toward the attainment of increasingly effective justice and ever fuller respect
for human rights.
After the elections, on the occasion of a visit by the President-elect of
El Salvador to the United States, on April 6 the FMLN presented a new proposal
which was rejected under the circumstances. President Cristiani, on July 12,
1989, appointed a special commission consisting of the Mayor of San Salvador,
Armando Calderón Sol, the poet David Escobar Galindo, and Mr. Julio Adolfo Rey
Prendes, of the Authentic Christian Movement (MAC), to pursue the proposal.
On April 7, 1989, President-elect Alfredo Cristiani met with the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in an atmosphere of cordiality and
At that meeting the Commission expressed its concern to the
President-elect in relation to complaints about serious violations of the right
to life and personal integrity attributable to the army or to paramilitary
forces, and expressed its concern also at the lack of any proper investigation
of these acts and at the failure to punish any persons found guilty of them.
Among these crimes the Commission cited to Mr. Cristiani many cases in which the
victims had been the leaders of human rights organizations.
Regarding the proposal for a dialogue among all sectors of Salvadoran
society which the Commission had been advocating repeatedly in recent years, it
reiterated to the President-elect that the resumption of that dialogue, with no
exclusions, offered, in its view, the best path to peace and reconciliation
among Salvadorans, without which there could be no true observance of human
The Commission thanks the then President-elect of El Salvador for the
opportunity for this exchange of views and for his commitment to seeking the
observance of human rights in his country.
The failure of the peace negotiations provoked bitter violence in El
Salvador. Recently appointed Minister of the Presidency, Antonio Rodríguez
Porth was killed along with two bodyguards. Three dynamite explosions were set
off by urban guerillas. The private residence of Vice-President Elect, Francisco
Merino was attacked and the new Inspector General, Lic. Roberto García Alvarado
was killed when his car was blown up. Attempts were made on the lives of Miguel
Castellanos, a guerilla deserter, and Francisco Pecorini, both well known
conservatives. Carlos Mendoza, chief editor of Análisis magazine, was
wounded. In addition three persons were killed and 40 injured when a bomb was
detonated in the crowded central market of San Salvador. Colonel Roberto Armando
Rivera, Director of the National Fire Department, was shot down in the center of
It should also be noted that there was an attack on the home of the
President of the National Assembly, Lic. Ricardo Alvarenga Valdivieso. Three
passersby died in an attack on the President of the Supreme Court. Likewise a
number of homes of military officers came under attack as well as many municipal
employees in towns of the interior.
This situation prompted Monsignor Rosa Chávez to say that “we are
seized by despair and impotence on seeing that barbarism appears to have become
permanently established in our midst, stifling any possibility that the parties
confronting each other may hear the clamor of an entire people and make peace
with each other.”
On July 7, 1989, the Permanent Mission of El Salvador to the Organization
of American States conveyed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights the
concern of the Government of El Salvador at the resurgence of violence of recent
The reaction to this violence led the chief of staff of the FMLN to
publicly recognize that numerous civilians had fallen victims to its actions and
accordingly recommended to its officers and combatants measures to avoid these
occurrences in the future.
In regard to the right to life the Commission is informed of numerous
summary executions of persons supposedly connected with the guerillas, alleged
to have been committed by members of the Armed and State Security Forces.
Complaints have also been made of shelling of areas of civilian population in
areas regarded as under FMLN influence, which have taken a heavy toll on the
population. In addition, the Commission has been informed that violations of the
rights to life and humane treatment have been committed by Government
bombardments of field hospitals belonging to the FMLN such as in the incidents
that occurred at Chupadero, the Sumpul River, and the Catarina ranch in the
Department of San Vicente. These cases are currently under investigation by the
The Armed Forces, for its part, recognized through the Ministry of
Defense, that it still continues to commit a limited number of abuses but that
it was taking steps to correct this situation.
Similarly, the Commission has noted with genuine concern the resurgence
of the death squads. Last May a clandestine group styling itself ARDE, or
“Revolutionary Extermination Action,” announced that it “would execute the
FMLN traitors to our country.” This was followed by reports of the emergence
of other clandestine paramilitary groups.
Regarding the formation of armed paramilitary groups, the Commission's
concern has been aroused by the activation of a new group called the Patriotic
Civilian Defense Forces, set up by businessmen and members of ARENA for
intelligence-gathering purposes. It was immediately learned, however, that the
Government of then President Duarte did not permit the formation of such forces
and that instructions had been issue for their dissolution.
Given the events first referred to and the fact that they deal with the
right to life, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expresses its hope
that the negotiations begun in Mexico City on September 13-15, 1989 and to be
continued in San José, Costa Rica on October 16-17, between representatives of
the FMLN and the Government will lead to a negotiated political settlement. This
has been the position of the Commission for sometime.
Regarding observance of the right to personal liberty, the Commission
continues to receive numerous complaints of fresh cases of forcible illegal
detentions by the security forces. Some of those arrested have disappeared from
view, most of them temporarily, but in any case in violation of the
constitutional guarantees in force under which no one may be detained except
pursuant to a judicial warrant and in compliance with the legally prescribed
The Commission has also learned that security forces have held political
prisoners longer than the law allows, which, in addition to violating the
country's laws, implies misuse of authority by the security police officers
involved, who presumably have been acting systematically and with the authority
and consent of their superiors, without any steps having been taken so far to
put an end to these violations of the right to personal liberty.
In regard to respect for the right to humane treatment, during this
period the Commission has also received from diverse non-governmental human
rights organizations fresh complaints of continued mistreatment, and in some
cases torturing, of detainees. According to those sources, these deeds are
committed immediately following detention, when the detainees, of either sex,
are taken to cells of the Treasury and National Police, and of the National
Guard as well, where they are held incommunicado throughout the period of their
According to the complainants, the police continue to employ methods of
physical mistreatment and psychological pressure: keeping the detainee on his or
her feet for 48 hours or longer without sleep or food, restricting the relief of
their physiological needs, and in many cases confining them naked in rooms kept
at low temperature by air-conditioning. Complaints have also been received of,
in some cases, the administration of drugs and use of the hood (the “capucha”).
The administration of justice in El Salvador has been severely criticized
for its slowness, lack of independence, and ineffectiveness in protecting and
defending the rights of Salvadoran citizens whose constitutional rights are
violated. Similarly, the IACHR notes the deplorable judicial precedents
associated with many assassinations almost none of which was ever properly
investigated, and the perpetrators of which were never allowed to be punished.
In December 1988 the Supreme Court of El Salvador, consisting in its
majority of members of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), handed down
a decision suspending the warrant for the arrest of Salvadoran Army Captain
Alvaro Saravia, who resided in the United States, and against whom extradition
proceedings were in progress between the Government of El Salvador and the
United States for his participation in the assassination of Archbishop Monsignor
Oscar Romero in March 1980. The Supreme Court's decision stated that “there
were no grounds for the arrest of Saravia” and that there should be an end to
“the restriction of his liberty ordered by the Judge of the Fourth Criminal
Court, who should withdraw the orders issued for his arrest.” The decision
stated further that the then Chief Prosecutor, Mr. Roberto Girón, who had
requested his extradition, “lacked the legal competence” to do so.
In response to a judicial request of the Salvadoran authorities, this
former Army captain was set at liberty by order of a court in Miami, Florida, to
the sorrow of the then President of El Salvador himself, Mr. José Napoleón
Duarte. Mr. Julio Samayoa, Minister of Justice of El Salvador, then released the
findings of the investigation made by the Commission for the Investigation of
Crimes by the Salvadoran Government, according to which there is evidence that
former Captain Saravia had been the leader and coordinator of the operation, and
that the person who had shot and directly assassinated the Archbishop (who fell
dead with a bullet in his heart fired from the door of the church, where the
pickup truck stopped for brief seconds) was the dentist and expert marksman Héctor
Antonio Regalado who, according to Mr. Duarte, is Mr. Roberto D'Audbuison's
personal bodyguard to this day. When the homicide had been accomplished, the
killers' vehicle was driven around in circles several times before arriving at
Mr. D'Audbuison's home to report accomplishment of the mission of finishing off
the prelate. Minister Samayoa stated that “the judicial truth was
incomplete,” and announced in February 1989 that the dossier on the
investigation would be forwarded to the courts.
The quashing of the investigation of Monsignor Romero's assassination has
generated protests both in and outside El Salvador. The Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights deplores that the organs for the administration of
justice in El Salvador have proved ineffectual once again, and voices its
concern that this assassination remain unpunished.
As for the guarantees of due process, the Commission has noted, in all
these cases of persons arrested and held incommunicado for longer than the 72
hours permitted under the Constitution and the law, the ineffectiveness of the
guarantees of judicial protection referred to in Article 25 of the American
Convention to shield citizens against violations of their fundamental rights by
Another source of concern to the Commission is the lack of proper
compliance with the rules on judicial guarantees, which are duly recognized in
Salvadoran law, and the noncompliance with which deprives detainees of their
right to prompt assistance at the time of their detention by defense counsel, to
be told the reasons for their arrest, not to have to testify against themselves,
and to all other judicial guarantees.
A heightening of tensions and violence has moved the officers of the
Government of El Salvador to look upon trade unions, cooperatives, universities,
human rights organizations and other such bodies as “fronts” and “havens
of the guerillas or insurgents,” etc.,
and they are said to have been penetrated by the FMLN for manipulation as
instruments of the armed struggle. As a result, they have been subjected to
harassment and attack by the security forces.
In January 1989 a combined force of the Public Security Corps, the 1st
Infantry Brigade and the Air Force of El Salvador cordoned off the facilities of
the University of El Salvador (UES) as part of what the Armed Forces Press
Office (COPRESA) referred to as “Operation Tornado” for the stated purpose
of reducing to a minimum the operations of urban commandos that had been
mounting severe attacks on various structures in the city, including the
building of the Ministry of Defense, while at the same time accusing the
University, on the basis of evidence asserted to be on hand, of serving as an
arsenal, haven and shelter for terrorists, and charging that the campus was the
place where the preparations for bombing were carried out.
The Rector, the faculty and the student body protested against this
action as a “violation of university autonomy,” an intensification of the
war, and a campaign of defamation launched by the Government with intent to
nullify the University's academic function and its commitment to the people.
Finally, on July 18, after a student demonstration, intense gunfire broke out
and continued for more than an hour. The Army alleged that it had been provoked
and had reacted in self-defense, repulsing the gunfire, which came from within
the academic precincts. The FMLN has accused the Government of firing on unarmed
students. Several students were wounded in the incident.
The period considered also witnessed many acts of hostility against the
Confederation of Associations of Cooperatives of El Salvador (COACES) and its
affiliates, and against the premises and leadership of trade union institutions.
Following are some of the events recorded: on May 25 the Armed Forces surrounded
and searched the premises of almost all the labor and popular organizations in
El Salvador, such as 1) the National Unit of Salvadoran Workers (UNTS), 2) the
Confederation of Associations of Cooperatives of El Salvador (COACES), 3) the
Independent Trade Union Federation of El Salvador (FEASIES), 4) the Unified
Federation of Salvadoran Trade Unions (FUSS), 5) The National Trade Union
Federation of Salvadoran Workers (FENASTRAS), and 6) the Christian Committee of
Displaced Persons of El Salvador (CRIPDES). The complaint also charges that in
the search of the COACES premises the sums of US$4,000 and 4,000 colons were
In face of incidents of this kind, the trade union leaders have said that
“it is clear to us that when the Government and Armed Forces of El Salvador
suffer attacks from the insurgents, they vent their ire on the organized
On May 26, 1989, members of the National Police Force, with the
authorization and assistance of the Judge of the First Criminal Court, searched
the premises of the Non-governmental Human Rights Commission of
El Salvador on a charge of harboring several terrorist delinquents who
had attacked the facilities of the 1st Infantry Brigade, the National
Police Battalion, and the General Traffic Department. According to the leaders
of the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador, the charge was baseless and part
of the policy of hostility and harassment maintained against them by the
Moreover, the Commission deplores the situation of more than 100 disabled
members of the FMLN whom it has not yet been possible to evacuate to where they
may be given proper medical care.
In connection with this problem, in its 72nd session the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decided, on humanitarian grounds, to
accede to a request that it use its
good offices to bring about the evacuation of a group of disabled persons from
the Refugio de la Calle Real del Arzobispado and those in the war zones.
In response to this approach on May 19, 1988, the Government of El
Salvador advised that the wounded and disabled combatants from the Calle Real
Catholic Church Refuge had been evacuated, but said nothing about the situation
of the other disabled persons.
The situation of those disabled persons, on whose behalf the Commission
used its good offices, remains uncharged, and their number has increased since
then to more than 100.
The Commission is informed that President José Napoleón Duarte had
arranged with the International Committee of the Red Cross the terms under which
those people would be evacuated. However, when it became known that they would
be leaving the country, the resulting political reaction in El Salvador halted
and broke up those arrangements.
The IACHR has learned that the President of the Legislative Assembly and
the Prosecutor General of the Republic have reportedly stated that, instead of
allowing the disabled combatants to leave, the police agencies were duty-bound
to keep them in the country and bring them to justice as presumed culprits.
Last August 20th, a group of wounded and injured FMLN members
occupied the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador demanding that their
requested evacuation from the country be honored by the Government. President
Cristiani promised that he would present a bill for “special amnesty”
covering these persons to the Congress.
The Commission deplores the suspension of the evacuation and is of the
view, as Monsignor Arturo Rivera y Damas has said, that it is temporary, not
final, and has recommended that a formula for remedying the situation of those
persons be sought as soon as possible.
The Commission has underscored the importance for the constitutional
Government of El Salvador of having had to deal, in these last years, with a
severe internecine war without resorting to the imposition of a state of
emergency with the attendant suspension of guarantees. Moreover, it has been
informed that the new Administration intends to make changes in the Government's
legal system, and especially in the criminal and procedural codes with a view to
forging a legal “tool” for the defense of democracy.
Several human rights bodies at home and abroad have expressed concern
over the possible implications of legal rules against terrorism, and the
Commission has, therefore, once again presented its recommendations for a study
of the rules now in preparation in light of the international obligations of the
Republic of El Salvador in the area of human rights.
In view of what has been stated in this report, the Commission reiterates
its past arguments for the need to humanize armed conflict by strict compliance
with the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, and once again recommends
humanitarian measures such as evacuation of wounded and disabled combatants, and
investigation of the complaints of murders attributed to members of the army and
of paramilitary formations so that the guilty may be punished.
The Commission, in light of the conversations conducted in Mexico City
this September between the Government and the FMLN renews its hope that the war
in El Salvador will be ended and a political solution negotiated to achieve
peace, a condition sine qua non for the full respect for human rights.